Post Processing In Not An Ethical Question It’s An Aesthetic Question

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It’s good to talk about photojournalistic ethics. But I think in the big list of ethical problems that journalism has to deal with, how photos are post-processed should be near the very bottom. Ultimately, it’s not really an ethical question at all — it’s an aesthetic question. And talking about aesthetic questions is good, but applying professional ethics-style thinking to them is maybe not so much. I think it tends to end in people conflating “tacky” with “false.”

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There Are 10 Comments On This Article.

  1. Speaking about photo-journalism, post-processing is a matter of language, not of ethics. And language is a matter of meaning. When you choose a language, you interfere with meaning, and when you interfere with meaning, ethics is involved.

  2. Post-processing should be a non-issue. For decades the same contests celebrated the post-processing “signature look” of countless photographers from Eugene Smith to Sebastião Salgado. If post-processing is acceptable for film – changing the rules for digital won’t put the genie back in the box.

  3. I envy the author’s worldview that includes such neatly non-overlapping categories as ethical and aesthetic. The lines don’t seem so bright to me.

    • Exactly. The whole issue concerning post-processing begins with the question whether or not it is ethical to aestheticise news and if so, how far one can go. One could argue that the more the picture becomes about aesthetics, the less it is about what it is of, therefore undermining the very purpose of journalism.

  4. Some photogs are willful in manipulating the meaning of the photo with post processing.

    Trying to make everybody conform by saying no post processing [PP] is just preventing those who genuinely use PP an an aesthetic and not a propaganda tool.

  5. I love how some people seem to think images were pure and unadulterated in the pre-digital days. It was only when Photoshop was invented that world went to hell. Images have been staged and manipulated for as long as there has been photography. If you threw away all the images that have been enhanced by some type of post processing, the works of virtually all the iconic photographers would be invalidated. Making images look good is part of the job description. It’s the talent that separates excellent photographers from hacks. There always has been a responsibility to present images ethically — particularly for news and documentary photography. No question the tools, and skills needed to use them, have changed over the years. But there really isn’t anything new here.

  6. In days of yore, if we choose Fuji Velvia over Kodak EPR, that wasn’t post-processing for color effect it was a pre-shoot aesthetic decision based on what we wanted the color and contrast to look like, same with most raw processing and post processing decisions.

    If I chose to shoot a portrait wit ha Harrison & Harrison black-dot filter to get smoother skin tones in a staged portrait how does that differ from post processing skin softening techniques ( whether they are well crafted or ham fisted is another question.)

    If by post-processing you mean adding or deleting content that’s another matter entirely and needs to called by it’s proper name – photo-illustration.

    • A lot of things in the world that were ok “in the days of yore” aren’t accepted today anymore (and rightfully so). There’s no reason why we should not discontinue previous practices if we come to the conclusion that they’re unethical. Whether that’s the case can be argued but “it’s always been that way” is not a valid basis for the argument.

  7. This term, “post-processing,” was borrowed from film making, wasn’t it? I was raised calling it, simply, “processing,” and it is a necessary part of making photographs.